Statement on Schools by the National Cabinet – COVID-19

The Prime Minister published a Media Release late Friday which included an updated Statement on Schools by the National Cabinet.  The Statement is as follows –

It is no longer business as usual for our schools, as we adapt to the impact of COVID-19.

We are now in a transition phase until the end of term as schools prepare for a new mode of operation following the school holidays.

For principals, teachers and support staff, the next few months will bring incredible challenges for our education system. We understand they need time to engage in the professional preparation and planning that is required to ensure that every child has access to education during this difficult time in a sustainable and effective manner for the rest of the 2020 school year.

Some states and territories have moved to pupil-free days already and each state and territory will come to their own transition arrangements with their workforce for the rest of this term.

While the medical advice remains that it is safe for children to go to school, to assist with the transition underway in our schools to the new mode of operation we ask that only children of workers for whom no suitable care arrangements are available at home to support their learning, physically attend school. This is vital to ensure that no parent should be forced to choose between their employment and the children’s education.

We understand the need for clear, nationally consistent health and safety advice so we have asked the AHPPC to develop guidelines about how staff in schools can protect themselves, manage social distance requirements and cater for those students who are at school. This will include guidelines for staff who work with vulnerable children, particularly those who have additional needs.

For education staff who identify as high risk, vulnerable or are caring for vulnerable family members, you will be supported to work from home.

We will continue to meet with education stakeholders and unions so that we can understand the education challenges for our communities and work constructively towards solutions. That will include the National Cabinet’s consideration of the measures needed for early childhood settings and TAFE.

The clarified position around students reflects the advice we have consistently provided schools and, indeed, the practice of the vast majority of Christian schools. 

While most Christian schools have managed the transition to alternative educational delivery models well, as we indicated yesterday, we are encouraging all schools to monitor what is happening in their State or Territory, with the possible exception of the ACT, and make similar arrangements regarding term dates and/or pupil free days. 

We look forward to guidelines from the AHPPC about how staff in schools can protect themselves, manage social distance requirements and cater for those students who are at school.  We will circulate these as soon as they are available

In the light of the changed government advice regarding staff who are classified as high risk, vulnerable or are caring for vulnerable family members, schools are encouraged to accommodate requests from those staff to work from home whenever possible.  Where this is not possible, more stringent application of protections should be implemented at school campuses.  Reduced numbers of students on site should facilitate such measures.

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